BANGKOK Bangkok is a large city, rising vertically and growing horizontally.
Bangkok is a large city, rising vertically and growing horizontally. Administratively it is split up into 50 khet (districts), but these are more often used in official business and for addresses. Visitors will find the conceptual division below more useful.
Sukhumvit – The long Sukhumvit Road, changing name to Ploenchit Road and Rama I Road going west, is Bangkok's modern commercial core, full of glitzy malls and hotels. The Skytrain intersection at Siam Square is the closest thing Bangkok has to a centre.
Silom – To the south of Sukhumvit, the area around Silom Road and Sathorn Road is Thailand's sober financial center by day, but Bangkok's primary party district by night when quarters like the infamous Patpong come alive.Suriwongse Road -The Entrance to Patpong road and the gay paradise opposite to it.
Rattanakosin – Between the river and Sukhumvit lies the densely packed "Old Bangkok", home to Bangkok's best-known wats. Yaowarat (Chinatown) and sights around the Chao Phraya River are also included here. Bangkok's backpacker mecca Khao San Road and the surrounding district of Banglamphu are located on the northern part of Rattanakosin.
Thonburi – The quieter west bank of the Chao Phraya River, with many small canals and some offbeat attractions.
Phahonyothin – The area around Phahonyothin Road and Viphavadi Rangsit Road is best known for the Chatuchak Weekend Market and Don Muang Airport.
Ratchadaphisek – The district north of Sukhumvit centered around Ratchadaphisek Road (part of which is called Asoke) and reaching from Phetchaburi Road to Lat Phrao. This area has really opened up recently as the new metro line follows Ratchadaphisek Road.
Just under 14 degrees North of the Equator, Bangkok is a tropical metropolis that is also one of the most traveller-friendly cities in Asia. A furious assault on the senses, the first things that impress many visitors are the heat, the congestion both on streets and sidewalks, the pollution inherent to rapid development, the squalor that accompanies a gaping chasm between rich and poor, and the irrepressible smiles of the Thais. Despite the sensationalized international news reports and first impressions, the city is surprisingly safe, more organized than it initially appears, and full of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. The high relative humidity and warm temperature favor the growth of tropical plants — you'll find exotic orchids and delicious fruit everywhere. Thai cuisine is singular, justifiably famous, varied, and affordable. Bangkok, for many, represents the quintessential Asian capital. Saffron-robed monks, garish neon signs, graceful Thai architecture, spicy dishes, colourful markets, traffic jams, and the tropical climate come together in a happy coincidence. It is difficult to leave with lukewarm impressions of the city.
Bangkok (originally Bang Makok) was a small village on the banks of the Chao Phraya river, until a new capital was founded on the west bank (present-day Thonburi) after the fall of Ayutthaya. In 1782, King Rama I built a palace on the east bank (now Rattanakosin) and renamed the city as Krung Thep, as it is now known to Thais -- the City of Angels (and much more: the full name is listed as the world's longest place name by the Guinness Book of Records; an English rendering goes like this: "Krung thep mahanakhon amorn ratanakosin mahintharayutthaya mahadilok pop noparatratchathani burirom udomratchanivetmahasathan amornpiman avatarnsathit sakkathattiyavisnukarmprasit" -- "The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn"). The original village has long since ceased to exist, but for some reason foreigners never caught on to the change.
Addresses & Navigation
Addresses in Bangkok use the Thai addressing system, which may be a little confusing to the uninitiated. Large roads such as Silom or Sukhumvit are thanon (ถนน), often abbreviated Th or glossed "Road/Avenue", while the side streets branching off from them are called soi (ซอย). Sois are numbered, with even numbers on one side and odd ones on the other. Thus, an address like "25 Soi Sukhumvit 3" means the 25th building on the 3rd soi of Sukhumvit Road. While the soi numbers on each side will always advance upward, the numbers often do not advance evenly between sides - for example, Soi 55 could be across from soi 36. Many well-known sois have an additional name, which can be used instead of the number. Soi 3 is also known as "Soi Nana", so the address above might thus also be expressed as "25 Soi Nana". The extension /x is used for new streets created between existing streets, as seen in Sukhumvit's soi pattern 7, 7/1, 7/2, 9, 11. Note that some short alleys are called trok (ตรอก) instead of soi.
To make things a little more complex, some large sois like Soi Ekamai (Sukhumvit Soi 63) and Soi Ari (Phahonyothin Soi 7) have their own sois. In these cases an address like "Soi Ari 3" means "the 3rd soi off Soi Ari", and you may even spot addresses like "68/2 Soi Ekamai 4, Sukhumvit 63 Road", meaning "2nd house beside house 68, 4th soi off Ekamai, the 63rd soi of Sukhumvit". In many sois the house numbers are not simply increasing, but may spread around.
To further bewilder the tourist who doesn't read Thai, the renderings of Thai street names in the Latin alphabet are not consistent. The road running towards the (former) airport from the Victory Monument may be spelled Phahon Yothin or Pahon Yothin or Phahonyothin or Phaholyothin depending on which street sign or map you consult. It's all the same in Thai, of course -- only the romanisation varies.
And if that's not confusing enough, most of the larger streets tend to change names altogether every few kilometers. Sukhumvit is called Sukhumvit on one side of the tollway (roughly east), but it becomes Ploenchit just before you cross Thanon Witthayu (aka Wireless) going towards the river. Keep going just a few more streets and it becomes Thanon PraRam Neung (usually said as just Rama I) after you pass Thanon Ratchadamri. But if you were to turn right onto Ratchadamri, in just a few blocks you'll find yourself on Thanon Ratchaprarop (past Petchaburi, aka New Phetburi, which is called Phitsanulok closer to the river). Got it?
But wait, there's logic to these name changes: most of them are neighborhoods. It wouldn't make sense to call the road Sukhumvit if it's no longer running through the Sukhumvit area, would it? Thus, Sukhumvit becomes Ploenchit where it runs though the Ploenchit area. It's when you're able to grasp the city in terms of its neighborhoods that it both becomes more navigable and more charming. Likewise, Pratunam and Chatuchak are much more than just markets; they're boroughs, each with its own distinct character.
Related to this last point, compass directions are not widely used by Thais to navigate in Bangkok. That's probably because they aren't very useful: the city's darwinistic layout, the changing street names, the winding river, and the lack of obvious landmarks all conspire to confuse your internal compass. Thus, asking for directions in terms of "is that west from here?" will probably earn you little more than a confused look from a local. You're better off to familiarize yourself with the neighborhoods and navigate to and from them. "How do I get to Thonglor?" will get you there faster than asking for directions to Sukhumvit Soi 55.
One exception: the Chao Phyra River is THE landmark in Bangkok, and many directional references can be made as "toward the river" or "away from the river". If you aren't TOO close, that is: since the river winds around the most popular tourist areas, river references tend to be most helpful when you're wandering farther afield than Banglamphoo or Sanam Luang or Rattana. And wander you should.
Bangkok now has two airports operating. Allow at least three hours to connect between them.
] Suvarnabhumi Airport
Bangkok used to have a departure tax (called the "Passenger Service Charge") of 700 baht for international flights. This was payable in cash after check-in; however, it is now included in your airline ticket. If you purchased the tickets prior to Dec 2006, this may not be the case. Check your tickets!
Located 30 kilometres (19 miles) to the east of Bangkok, space-age Suvarnabhumi Airport (สุวรรณภูมิ, pronounced "soo-wanna-poom", (IATA: BKK) (ICAO: VTBS),  started operations in September 2006 and is now Bangkok's main airport, used by all international flights as well as all Bangkok Airways (PG), Air Asia (FD), SGA Airline (5E), PBair (9Q) and some Thai Airways domestic flights. There is only one terminal building, which covers both domestic and international flights, but it's huge (by some measures the world's largest) so allow time for getting around.
Suvarnabhumi offers all facilities expected of a major international airport (transit hotel, ATMs, money exchange). Please note that there is NO ATM machine beyond immigration checkpoint. The cheapest place to eat is the Magic food court on the 1st floor, while perhaps the most comfortable and relaxing of the airport's restaurants and cafes is the Sky Lounge on the 6th floor. Here you can have your latte while sitting in plush leather sofas and enjoying a panoramic view over the runways - prices are also quite reasonable with coffee around 70 baht a cup. The observation on 7th is not much to see since the steel structure of the roof block most of the airport view. There are a few stores in the check-in area including a convenience store and a post office; however, the real shopping experience awaits travelers on the other side of immigration in the departure lounge area where the number of shops and duty free outlets leaves you wondering if you are in a mall or an airport. Beware, though, that past security in the gate waiting area there is practically nothing except steel chairs.
Limousine taxis (which charge by distance, e.g. around 800 baht to central Sukhumvit) can be reserved at the limousine hire counter on the 2nd floor (just outside Arrivals), and aggressive touts will try to entice you on board. A better option are the ordinary metered taxis available on the 2nd floor: queue up and state your destination at the desk, and you'll get a slip with your destination written in Thai on it. There is a 50 baht surcharge on the meter, meaning that trips to the city will cost 300-400 baht (plus 65 baht express way tolls) and take 40-60 minutes depending on traffic. (Beware of taxi drivers who claimed that the 50 baht surcharge is applied to each passenger as opposed to per taxi.) If there is a huge taxi queue, consider taking a free shuttle bus to the Public Transport Center, which has more taxis. Go straight to the official "Taxi Stand" and wait there. If you allow yourself to be waylaid by one of the taxi touts they might quote you more than double the fare (900 baht instead of 400 for example).
There is also a stop outside the 1st floor exit for airport express buses , which charge a flat 150 baht and operate hourly until midnight, covering four routes, each taking about 60 to 90 minutes:
AE2: Suvarnabhumi-Khao San Road
AE4: Suvarnahhumi-Victory Monument-Hua Lamphong (train station)
The BMTA public bus lines are:
550: Suvarnabhumi-Happy Land
551: Suvarnabhumi-Victory Monument (BTS)
552: Suvarnabhumi-On Nut (BTS)-Klong Toei
552A: Suvarnabhumi - Sam Rong
553: Suvarnabhumi-Samut Phrakan
554: Suvarnabhumi-Don Muang Airport
555: Suvarnabhumi-Rangsit (Expressway)
556: Suvarnabhumi-Southern Bus Terminal (Expressway)
557: merged with 558
558: Suvarnabhumi-Central Rama II-Wong Wien Yai
559: Suvarnabhumi-Rangsit (Outer Ring Road)
There are also privately-owned BMTA minivans to many parts of Bangkok, such as Don Muang Airport, Bang Kapi, Rangsit, Samut Prakarn, etc. They charge in flat rate 50 baht.
To take a minivan or a public bus, you must first take a free shuttle bus ride (from the outside 2nd floor) to the separate terminal (Public Transport Center). The minivans go directly to the destination, so they are faster than the public buses, which stop frequently along the way.
These services take about 1 hour to 2 hours depending on Bangkok traffic and frequency is usually every 20 mins during daytime and night time ranges from 20 mins to 1 hour depending on route. Long-distance 1st class bus services connect Suvarnabhumi directly with Chachoengsao, Hua Hin, Nong Khai, Pattaya, Rayong, and Trat.
An airport express train to the future City Air Terminal at Makkasan (connecting to MRT Phetchaburi) and onward to Phaya Thai (connecting to BTS Phaya Thai) is under construction, but is not expected to be ready before the end of 2008 at the earliest. Die-hard rail fans with lots of time to kill can take bus 517 to Hua Takhe station (15 baht), a few km from the airport, and continue on any 3rd class train to Asok or Hualamphong (7 baht).
Don Muang Airport
Don Muang Airport (IATA: DMK) (ICAO: VTBD)(or Don Mueang), 20 km north of downtown, was Bangkok's main airport until 2006. The airport handles Nok Air, 1-2-Go domestic flights and most Thai Airways domestic flights, but the former international terminal is now limited to charters and general aviation.
The public taxi stand is located on the sidewalk outside the arrivals area (don't be fooled by all the taxi service booths in the main hall), and is probably your best bet for getting into town — it's also your only option after 11 PM. Give your destination (English is understood) and you will receive a two-part ticket at the booth. The charge into town will be the meter + 50 baht + toll if you take the expressway (recommended, 30-70 baht), for a usual total of 200-300 baht. The small part is for your driver, the large part is for you. This ticket is for complaints and is how the system is enforced: hold on to it to help avoid arguments later. The trip into town takes 30 minutes and up depending on traffic conditions.
If the line at the taxi stand is long or you need a more spacious car, you may want to book a (so-called) limousine from the desks in the terminal. This will get you a slightly nicer car at about twice the price (500-600 baht). Ignore any touts outside and do not get into any car with white license plates, as these are not licensed to carry passengers.
Across a covered overpass from the airport is the train station. Tickets to Hualamphong station cost 5 baht at the ticket booth. While taking the train is the cheapest way to get from the airport to Bangkok, it is not for the faint-of-heart: schedules are erratic, the run-down passenger cars often have beggars roaming through them, and are relatively empty late at night.
There are also a number of public transport buses going by the airport. Just take a overpass to the real road bypassing the airport and stop the bus of your choice. For example the air-con bus 504 will take you to the Central World Center (World Trade Center-old name), from where you'll have access to the Skytrain as well as many other buses, or Lumpini Park, from where you get access to the subway, for 22 Baht. Note that large baggage is not allowed.
If you're flying Thai Airways, you can do a city check-in at Lad Phrao MRT station, from where free shuttle buses leave 1:50 before each Thai flight. The same buses also run in the reverse direction from the airport.
Bangkok's three official long haul bus terminals are:
Eastern Bus Terminal - also known as Ekamai, this relatively compact terminal is located right next to Ekamai BTS station on Sukhumvit (E7). Ekamai serves Eastern Thailand destinations, including Pattaya, Rayong, Ban Phe, Chanthaburi and Trat.
North & North Eastern Bus Terminal - also known as Moh Chit (or Mor Chit or Morchit), this is the largest, busiest, and most modern terminal. The upper floor serves the North-East (Isaan); the ground floor serves the North, as well as sharing some destinations with Ekamai (including Pattaya, Rayong, Chanthaburi and Trat). It's a 30-baht moto hop (or a lengthy hike across Chatuchak Park) from BTS Moh Chit/Metro Chatuchak stations (N8/18), or take the 77 bus and pay the 7-baht flat fare on board.
See the Phahonyothin District guide for more details.
Southern Bus Terminal - also known as Sai Tai Mai, this older and relatively chaotic sprawling terminal serves all points west and south from its somewhat inconvenient location on the "wrong" side of the river. The terminal has been moved to a new, even more remote location in Phutthamonthon Sai 1 — enquire locally.
See the Thonburi District guide for more details.
when arriving in Bangkok...
...late at night, the easiest way from Northern or Southern terminal to your final destination will be by metered-taxi.
...by tourist bus you may find yourself delivered to their favorite hotel or guest-house, otherwise you'll probably be dropped off in the vicinity of one of the long haul terminals, or if it's a service catering primarily for backpackers, somewhere near Khao San Road.
The three main stations in Bangkok are:
] Hualamphong Train Station
The main station and the terminus of the Bangkok Metro line. Located right in the middle of downtown Bangkok, it is a huge and surprisingly nice station, built during the reign of King Rama VI and spared bombing in world War II at the request of the Free Thai underground. The station has a good tourist office. (Only listen to the people at the Info desk - anyone walking around offering to help you 'find' a hotel or taxi is just a tout, even if they are wearing very official looking badges).
Tickets for trains leaving the same or next day can be bought on the counters under the red/orange/green screens (see photo). The Advance Booking Office is located to the right of the platforms as you walk towards them and is quite well organised. You can select your seat/berth from a plan of the train, and payments by credit card are accepted.
The taxi pick up and drop off point is to the left of the platforms as you walk towards them, and is generally chaotic at busy periods with scant regard for any queue.
The left luggage facility is at the opposite end of the concourse, on the far right as you walk away from the platforms.
WARNING: The TAT Authorized Tourism Information offices in the second floor sell you a private "VIP bus" ticket if there is no place in first and second class trains. They offer a direct trip to the destination with a VIP bus faster than the train. Although the trip starts with a VIP bus, it ends up with a "surprise" transfer to a minibus and extremely long journeys. Just refuse the offered private bus ticket and buy public bus tickets from the main bus terminals if you cannot find ticket for train.